The Summer of Sangailė (Sangailės vasara)


Julija Steponaityte (left) and Aistė Diržiūtė
Few movies tread the often misunderstood, ignored and fetishized frontier of female sexuality with honesty, compassion and depth. Writer-director Alanté Kavaïté’s dreamy and multilayered drama The Summer of Sangailė is one that depicts the titular heroine’s coming of age with humanity and dignity during the course of a summer spent on the Lithuanian lakeside. Seventeen-year-old Sangailė (played by Julija Steponaityte) is transfixed by the stunts performed at an aerobatic air show when she unwittingly captures the attentions of an effervescent girl named Auste (Aistė Diržiūtė).

The lanky, melancholic teenager (whose name means “strength”) initially runs away from the other girl’s enthusiastic friendliness, but is soon won over. Sangailė’s family seems as idyllic and serene as the outside of their summer home, but the facade cracks instantly to reveal a cold and austere reality that actually resembles the stark interior of their house. Her parents may have money, but it can't remedy the palpable rift between Sangailė and her ballerina mother, who’s resentfulness at having had her dreams dashed comes out in passive-aggressive jabs at her daughter. Sangailė wears the effects of this in the composition of her body, as well as on the marks hiding beneath her armour of head-to-toe clothing. It finally manifests itself in the fear that keeps her from pursuing her own dreams of flying.

Summer of love on the Lithuanian lakeside
By contrast, Auste’s life is deeply happy. She lives alone with her mother in a soviet-era building, which appears grim on the outside but inside is quirky and alive with homemade art and colorful fabrics. Auste, a budding dressmaker and stylist, photographs her clothes in inspired editorials and takes Sangail
ė under her wing as a model. Some of the loveliest scenes are the playful vignettes of the girls modeling the clothes for Auste’s camera that lead to their blossoming romance. An excellent model of one who's chasing her dreams, Auste brings a source of nourishment into Sangail
ė’s otherwise lonely existence.

The film is intensely focused on sensations and feelings, not only in the embodiment of the characters, but also in the landscape. Kavaïté’s love of her native Lithuania helps the narrative unfold like a third protagonist. Steponaityte and Diržiūtė are well cast and compliment each other exquisitely. The metaphors of flying capture Sangailė’s journey of self discovery and overcoming fear in a well-crafted film about the power of love and encouragement.


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